CANNON BEACH — The City Council voted Friday to lift an order restricting visitors to the city over the coronavirus.
The decision came after Gov. Kate Brown gave Clatsop County the approval to begin phase one of reopening the economy from virus restrictions.
The City Council passed a series of emergency measures in March after an influx of spring break visitors.
Clatsop County closed hotels and other lodging to visitors, but Cannon Beach took the restrictions a step further by excluding visitors who live outside a 50-mile radius of the city.
Mayor Sam Steidel said the decision was difficult, but city councilors agreed it made sense to lift the ban on visitors.
“It worked for what it needed to,” he said. “But it would have just been weird to have the signs up at either end of town, yet we had open businesses downtown.”
Cannon Beach also rescinded restrictions on hotels and other short-term rentals on May 26. The Seaside City Council is scheduled to decide on Wednesday whether to lift lodging restrictions.
The county has sought a coordinated approach to reopening. Phase one of the reopening plan is set to last 21 days.
County leaders have indicated that lodging restrictions would likely not be eased until early June, when Brown could lift a ban on nonessential travel in the second phase of reopening.
Steidel said it would have been difficult to let other businesses open, but not allow hotels to open. He said it also would have resulted in upset hotel owners.
The mayor said the City Council picked a date after Memorial Day weekend to avoid a surge in visitors, and he thinks it also gives hotels time to prepare.
“The daytrippers are going to come no matter what,” he said. “So, why not take a percentage of those and allow them to stay in hotels where they will have a better chance to use the restrooms, a better chance to wash their hands and a place to get away from the crowd if there is such a crowd.”
He said hotel visitation also supports other businesses.
Steidel said the mayors in the county met on Thursday, the day before Cannon Beach decided to lift hotel restrictions before the rest of the county.
“I don’t know if they were happy about it because everybody has a different opinion on what they can do and what should be done. And I’m sure that the North County is a little more perturbed at what we were doing, but I think they were understanding,” Steidel said.
“At least in Clatsop County we’re communicating and there’s not a lot of rancor.”
Patrick Nofield, the president of Escape Lodging in Cannon Beach, said the closure in March was the right call and that it also gave hotels time to prepare a plan.
“But at some point we had to get going again and I think the city saw that. I mean, they can’t keep the tourists from coming. They’re going to come regardless of the governor’s order,” he said.
Escape Lodging manages a number of hotels in Seaside and Cannon Beach, as well as restaurants, including the Driftwood Restaurant & Lounge and Tom’s Fish & Chips. They also manage the RV resort for Cannon Beach. The company furloughed 410 employees in March due to the closures.
“And that’s just my company,” Nofield said. “Think about the cumulative effect in Clatsop County of those employees and the impact that has on their families. I mean, it’s huge.”
Nofield shared a presentation with the City Council last week before the vote on Friday about the precautions hotels plan to take.
He said lodging property owners representing more than 80% of the hotel rooms in the city came together and agreed on a document of best practices and standards to keep employees and guests safe when they reopen.
“The impact of the hotel closure due to COVID-19 has been catastrophic and the job losses are unprecedented,” Nofield told the City Council. “We are now in our ninth week of the closure and the longer that our properties are closed, the harder it will be to recover.”
Nofield said hotels can open safely before phase two. He pointed to two of his company’s properties outside the county that are operating at 60% occupancy in May with the protocols in place and no incidence of the virus.
Nofield referred to the hospitality industry as a partner of the city.
“We really are the generator of the economy, especially in South County,” he said. “We don’t get a lot of essential travel in Cannon Beach — it’s minimal. We barely get some in Seaside.”